Fantasy 101: Draft Strategies To Get To Know

In this article, I will be highlighting 3 different strategies you can use in any of your upcoming drafts. There are fantasy managers every year who choose to wing it with their picks as they finish their beer going up to the draft board. Unfortunately for them, they take chances and make mistakes like selecting the wrong Barkley (Matt Barkley instead of Saquon). You, however, will know a few avenues you can take to draft the best possible team. This thought process will not only give you the ability to identify a few players to target at your next pick but also be thinking a few picks ahead to the next round.

Each pick has a cause and effect. What this means is for every player/position you select that causes your other league members to pivot (and hopefully groan) because of the player you just selected. While they pivot, this means you will need to as well. Of all the takeaways of this article, the most important nugget to remember on draft day is to be flexible. You may have players you absolutely have to leave your draft with, however, what happens when they are chosen the pick right in front of you? You absolutely can throw out the casual “That was my next pick!” Instead, you can take the next best available player and move the draft along. If you are dead set on a player or position at a pick/round you may find yourself drafting for need instead of talent. Let’s discuss how we can address this below:


Best Player Available (BPA):

To be honest, this is the hardest strategy to follow. As you select each player, there is a little bit of dopamine released when your roster is being filled out. In our minds, our starters are the most important players on our team because they are scoring the points that matter. Here is where you get into trouble with that thought process. You are in the third round and your 1st and 2nd round selections were running backs. Patrick Mahomes, one of the most feared players on the real and fantasy turf, is waiting for you. However, Clyde Edwards-Helaire has fallen to your pick as well. An assessment must be made of what is the better value pick. Mahomes may finish as the number 1 overall Quarterback, while the hope is that Edwards-Helaire finds a way into the top 12 running backs.

This seems like an easy choice, however, it is generally thought in the fantasy community that quarterbacks are easier to find than potential top 12 running backs. Putting Clyde on your bench is a tough move, but as injuries or bye-weeks happen, your team will be deeper overall and thus more flexible throughout the season. The definition of drafting the best player available is to take the best value at each selection regardless of position or need. If that means you have an excess of running backs or wide receivers to start your draft, congrats! Now your roster has the best possible player that you could have taken at that pick. After the draft, you now have a surplus of talent that can be traded away for a position of need.

Even if you come away with a lopsided team, it is important to remember that nobody will ever win their championship on draft day. Where you can lose it is passing on the best possible player just because you had an empty starting spot on your roster. Again, this is the hardest strategy to follow. The most reassuring thing about this strategy is that you did the best possible job you could with the players available to you. You can’t control how each of your league members drafts, but you can select the most talented player and come away from your draft with the most talented roster as well.


Running back heavy:

As mentioned above, it is difficult to find running backs that can finish top 12 at their position. Generally, a draft that focuses mainly on running backs will have a running back selected in the first and second rounds. If this sounds irresponsible, you may be right. However, looking at this chart below we can see how the best running back in football last year compared to the 12th best. For reference, these numbers were taken from Fantasypro’s half-point scoring system.

RankPlayerPointsGamesAverage
1Alvin Kamara336.31522.4
2Derrick Henry323.61620.2
3Dalvin Cook315.81422.6
4David Montgomery237.81515.9
5Aaron Jones235.41416.8
6Johnathan Taylor 234.81515.7
7James Robinson 225.91416.1
8Josh Jacobs214.81514.3
9Nick Chubb199.71216.6
10Kareem Hunt199.51612.5
11Ezekiel Elliott197.71513.2
12Antonio Gibson184.21513.2

In total points from RB1 to RB12, there was a difference of 152.1 points or 9.2 points per game. This is just meant to show the difference in the value of positions in fantasy football. Below we will follow the same exercise for wide receivers. What is important to note here is their ADP as well. Not all of these running backs were taken within the first two rounds, which shows there are gems to find later in your draft that have this potential.

Alvin Kamara finished as the RB1 but was drafted overall at pick 1.04 (first round, fourth pick). Realistically if you were able to grab two top 12 running backs in rounds 1 and 2, you probably drafted either Derrick Henry or Josh Jacobs in round 1 and picked up either Nick Chubb or Aaron Jones in round 2. Had a pick either early or late in the first round, you may not have been fortunate enough to draft the correct players. Of the top 24 picks or first 2 rounds of your draft, 15 running backs were drafted. Of those 15 running backs, only 7 of them finished in the top 12. That means 8 of the top 15 running backs taken didn’t even finish top 12. Teams had a 46% chance of taking one of the best running backs in football and the majority of the running backs were not worth that pick.

Looking at these numbers, I’m not trying to sway you from taking running backs early and often. Generally, that is my strategy in most of my drafts as well. The point was to show how there is nothing guaranteed in fantasy football. Whether players miss time due to injury or fail to meet expectations on the field, you need to realize that no pick is a slam dunk that will win you your championship. The teams that drafted a running back in the top 24 picks but did not play up to their expectations force fantasy players to pivot elsewhere in their draft or on the waiver wire. Drafting multiple running backs early can pay dividends, but players were less likely to find two of these running backs than draft both inside the top 24. The takeaway here is buyers beware of fixating on a specific position such as running back. Your roster may not be as secure as you think.


Wide Receiver Heavy:

Now that you know how difficult it can be to draft two effective running backs in your draft, it sounds like targeting top-tier wide receivers is the way to go for you. Surely the numbers show that drafting receivers are safer. Let’s take another look at the difference between wr1 to wr12:

RankPlayerPointsGamesAverage
1Devante Adams300.91421.5
2Tyreek Hill285.41519.0
3Stefon Diggs265.11616.6
4Calvin Ridley236.51515.8
5DeAndre Hopkins230.31614.4
6Justin Jefferson230.21614.4
7D.K. Metcalf229.81614.4
8Adam Thielen217.01514.5
9Tyler Lockett215.41613.5
10Mike Evans213.61613.4
11A.J. Brown212.51415.2
12Allen Robinson211.91613.2

Now in total points from wr1 to WR12, there was a difference of 89 points compared to the 152.1 point difference in running backs. The average difference per week was 8.3. What immediately jumps off this chart is the difference in total points from the best overall wide receiver to the number 12. It is a significant amount of points, but not nearly as much as the difference in running backs. Of the top 24 picks, only 6 of them were wide receivers. The thought process behind this low number is that receivers are easier to come by and don’t provide as much of an advantage as the top running back would. Of the 6 receivers chosen, only 3 of them finished top 12 at their position or 50%. With a small sample size of 6 players, the bust percentage is not as relevant as it would be to running backs.

It seems that the top receivers are not much safer to select than a running back. What this chart does show is how much easier it is to find a receiver later in your draft than at the beginning. In rounds 3-5 of the 2020 draft, 7 of the top 12 receivers were taken. While the top 3 were drafted in the top 24 picks, that left quite a few other impactful receivers leftover for other teams to take. So now you know how safe it is to draft solely receivers early in your draft. Generally, there are fewer to choose from and it may just be better to flip a coin to let you know who to choose. While I don’t condone that as actual fantasy advice, it just further proves how difficult it is to choose the proper player.


Takeaways:

While I may have scared you out of wanting to take either a running back or wide receiver early in your draft, the intent is to teach you the importance of taking safe players. How do you identify what a safe player looks like? Players with a history of recent success have a track record that lets you know what you’re getting in a draft pick. Players that have fewer red flags which could be either recent injuries or lack of opportunity should be a safer option earlier in your drafts. Taking the best player available is a difficult strategy to follow. When others start taking quarterbacks or tight ends it is difficult to not grab one of the top options. Sometimes what this leads to is taking the 4th or 5th best player at their position while there could be a better player on the board. Taking the best player regardless of position will give you the most talented team you could have drafted. The goal would be to make trades and deal from whatever depth you’ve accrued to fill holes on your roster.

Lastly, you have a set number of roster spots that only specific positions can play. However, just because you need a starter, that does not mean you can’t start filling your bench. More often than not, the starters you select on draft day will not be your starters at the end of the season. Building depth will help provide an advantage over your league when you face bye weeks or unexpected injuries. There is no right or wrong strategy to draft because every league is different. What works best for you to have fun and success throughout the year should be the route you go!

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